Punchback: Answering Critics

Administrator Pay Vs. Teacher Pay


In examining the assertion that school administrators are paid too much, I begin with the notion that teachers’ salaries, relative to other professions requiring similar training, are too low and should be raised to levels that are professionally competitive and market sensitive.

Virtually every commission and task force on school reform over the past two decades has pointed to the need to raise teachers’ salaries. Although some states and school districts are making concerted efforts to address this, the National Center for Education Statistics described the situation this way just a few years back: “Attracting talented people to teaching and retaining their services requires adequate compensation. After losing ground relative to other professionals during the 1970s, teachers’ salaries had caught up to their previous levels and stabilized by the late 1980s. ... However, teachers continue to earn less than other professionals with similar literacy skills.”

The Carnegie Forum perhaps has stated it best: “Teacher salaries are extraordinarily compressed when compared to other occupations demanding a college degree. They start low and remain low.”

Average starting salaries in teaching increased in the 1990s, yet new teachers still earn a starting salary nearly $12,000 less than the average starting offer for college graduates overall, according to the American Federation of Teachers.

A Narrow Margin
The current difference between daily teacher and administrator salaries is surprisingly narrow when considering the length of the work year and comparative levels of education and experience. Data collected during 2002-2003 by the Educational Research Service show as little as a 2 percent difference in average salary between new assistant principals and highly experienced teachers and a 17 percent difference in average salary between principals and relatively experienced teachers. The difference in pay between highly experienced teachers and new administrators is even smaller and in some cases does not reflect any significant salary improvement for the new school leader who has left the classroom.

The employment contracts of most school administrators specify a 20 percent to 30 percent longer work year than do the contracts of most teachers. Teachers spend an average of 187 days on duty during the year. Elementary principals typically work 223 a year, and middle school principals spend 228 days on the job. The number increases with each supervisory level, up to an average of 238 work days a year for superintendents.

Therefore it is appropriate to compare the salaries of these groups in terms of average daily rates of pay. For the 2002-03 school year the average daily pay was:

• Classroom teachers--$241;
• Elementary school principals--$339;
• Middle/junior high principals--$356;
• Senior high school principals--$373;
• Assistant superintendents--$419; and
• Superintendents--$534.

Education Levels
Keep in mind that salary schedules in education are based on more than differences in responsibilities and length of contract year. They also reflect differences in the level of training and the employees’ years of educational experience.

Comparative data indicate that superintendents average almost twice the number of years of experience of teachers--30 years compared with 16. Moreover, two-thirds of the superintendents hold degrees beyond the master’s, and 42 percent of the principals hold higher degrees. Only seven percent of teachers hold degrees beyond master’s.

These major differences in training and experience, along with differences in responsibilities and length of contract year, all contribute to the range of differences in average salaries of teachers and administrators.

Comparable Gains
ERS data on administrator salaries also indicate that administrators have not been gaining at the expense of teachers. Over the years, the averages of salaries paid to both central-office administrators and school principals actually have been relatively static compared with the average annual salaries paid to teachers.

For the past school year, teachers’ salaries increased more than those of central-office administrators and only slightly less than salaries for principals. Teachers’ salaries increased 2.8 percent on average, while central-office administrators saw a 2.1 percent increase and building administrators saw a 3.5 percent increase.

Considering then that teachers’ salaries are lower than others in the marketplace and administrators earn only marginally more (when all factors are considered), one can only conclude that school administrators are not overpaid.

John Forsyth is president and director of research, Educational Research Service, 2000 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington, VA 22201. E-mail: jforsyth@ers.org.


John Forsyth suggests these ERS resources on the subject:

* Salaries and Wages Paid Professional and Support Personnel in Public Schools, 2002-2003;

* Concerns in Education: Teacher Compensation and Teacher Quality; and

* Budgeted Revenues and Expenditures in Public School Systems: Current Status and Trends, update 2003.

They are available from ERS at 800-791-9308 or at www.ers.org